Dissertation Defense: Earnest Porta
Candidate Name: Earnest W. Porta, Jr
Advisor: Osama Abi-Mershed, Ph.D.
Title: Morocco in the Early Atlantic World
Over the last several decades, a growing number of historians have conceptualized the Atlantic world as an explanatory analytical framework, useful for studying processes of interaction and exchange. Stretching temporally from the 15th into the 19th century, the Atlantic world framework encompasses more than simply the history of four continents that happen to be geographically situated around what we now recognize as the Atlantic basin. It offers instead a means for examining and understanding the transformative impacts that arose from the interaction of European, African, and American cultures following the European transatlantic voyages of the 15th and 16th centuries. Though it has not been extensively studied from this perspective, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Morocco possessed geopolitical characteristics that uniquely situated it within not only the Islamic world, but the developing Atlantic world as well.
This study considers Morocco’s involvement in the early Atlantic world by examining three specific phases of its involvement. The first phase lasts approximately one hundred years and begins with the Portuguese invasion of Ceuta in 1415, considered by some to mark the beginning of European overseas expansion. In this phase Morocco faces an almost relentless assault from the earliest Atlantic powers, Portugal and Spain. After a period of roughly fifty years, this assault becomes almost exclusively an Atlantic one. Essentially confined to the Moroccan Mediterranean coast by a combination of geography and resistance, the Portuguese used the pathways of the Atlantic to proceed southward along the Moroccan Atlantic coast, establishing trading enclaves and fortresses from which they not only support their exploratory, commercial, and conquest ambitions in sub-Saharan Africa, the Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean, but from which they also attempt to subjugate inland Morocco. With this expansion the Portuguese both undermine the legitimacy of Morocco’s existing rulers, the Watṭāsids, and lay the groundwork for the successor dynasty that was to become their nemesis.
During the second phase, which covers approximately sixty years starting in the second decade of the sixteenth century, Morocco begins to use the avenues provided by the emerging Atlantic world first to resist the Portuguese assault and then to launch its own counter-attack. Capitalizing on the public support gained by resisting the Portuguese, the shurafā Sa’dī dynasty rises to prominence in southern Morocco. Partially through effective use of the trade networks now offered by the Atlantic, the Sa'dī trade sugar and other commodities to accumulate wealth and arms sufficient to unify the country and assert a degree of independence from external powers.
In this study’s final phase, which extends from the Moroccan victory at the Battle of Wādī al-Maḵāzin in 1578 until the death of Ahmad al-Mansūr in 1603, Morocco mirrors the conduct of other Atlantic states. First it actively engages in the complicated international political dynamics of the sixteenth century, most importantly for the development of the Atlantic world preventing the powerful Ottoman Empire from gaining control of Atlantic ports. Second, Morocco attempts to assert its own imperial ambitions with both an actual military adventure across the Sahara and an outrageously audacious proposal to reach across the Atlantic itself to the Americas.
Reviewing each of these phases demonstrates how examining Morocco within the context of an Atlantic world framework can provide a greater understanding of how both Morocco and the Atlantic world developed – one that could not be achieved by a traditional examination of national histories. Not exhaustive, this study suggests that additional consideration of more fully integrating Morocco into the larger Atlantic narrative is a worthwhile pursuit.
Wednesday, June 20 at 9:30am to 11:30am
Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 662
37th and O St., N.W., Washington